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[personal profile] attackfish
I almost didn’t pick this book up, in spite of it being written by Holly Black.  First of all, the cover really creeps me out (yes, I know it’s just a hand and a wrist with writing on it, but it does) and second, vampire novels have almost never done it for me.  But you know, still too lazy to go hunting another author to read when there’s this nice long book by an author I like just sitting there.

When she’s seventeen years old, Tana wakes up in a house full of corpses.  The only other survivor of the high school party turned bloodbath are her charming, irritating ex-boyfriend Aidan, who is already going cold, infected with the vampire disease.  Together with a vampire on the run from the ones who killed Tana’s friends, they have no choice but to head to Coldtown, the city of the undead, where no one who enters is ever allowed out again.

Well, I’m really really glad I did go ahead and pick this one up, because The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is everything I’ve wanted in a vampire novel and didn’t ever expect to get.  These vampires are absolutely terrifying.  Her world building, the Coldtowns, the live feeds, the parties, and the way the glittering opulence and beautiful vampire flesh is used to lure in prey, the way the balls and the Coldtowns are the vampires’ spiderwebs, and the way this novel treats vampirism more like a zombie apocalypse than as either the modern figures of sex appeal or as the sinister lone vampire of the more traditional horror genre.  The vampire infection is spreading.  It will consume everything if it can.  A hoard of vampires would devour the world.  Aside from style and a preference for blood over brains, well.

Vampires and Zombies represent two very different things.  There are subtle and not so subtle class implications to the modern vampire and zombie narrative.  Zombies are the monster of the masses, the unstoppable shambling mob.  Vampires on the other and are the blue blooded monster, the blood sucking parasite.  Although in the past, in folktales, there were plenty of peasant vampires, from the 1800s onward, the literary tradition has made vampires into aristocracy.  They live in castles, they have noble titles like Count Dracula, and they have hierarchies, with subordinates.  Vampires now are as likely to live in a mansion (crumbling or not) as a castle, but they remain the beautiful, ancient upper crust of the monster world.  People fantasize about becoming vampires.  No one would ever want to become a zombie.  Black draws on this tradition, especially for the old vampires, before the epidemic and the Coldtowns, who maintained strict reign on the numbers of the undead, who had rulers, and minions, and secrets.  The new Coldtown vampires are just as beautiful, but they are the nouveau riche of the world.  It’s no coincidence that the vampire who most represents the old vampires in this novel is by birth a Russian nobleman.  Nor is is a coincidence that the old vampire who is able to remake himself as the shining center of Coldtown is the son of an apple farmer.  The world of the Coldtowns is what happens when the exclusive monsters suddenly aren’t exclusive anymore, when the rabble are let in.

Vampirism and their status as elites, in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is explicitly tied to celebrity culture and reality TV.  The vampire world, beautiful, flawless, and oh so desirable, has become crass, and the crasser it becomes, the more obvious it is that vampire culture has always been rotten from within.  It’s only ever been a facade.  And Lucien hs always understood this.  He and the vampires of Coldtown are on instegram and twitter.  They’re all over television and online, and they use their parties and perfect looks to convince their human prey to let themselves be caught.  It’s all trickery and distraction.

One of the things I like best is the acknowledgement that Black gives to the fact that being a predator doesn’t stop one from being prey.  Vampires happily prey on each other.  Nothing, not even achieving vampirism could keep anyone safe.

Also, there is something deeply unsustainable about the world after the epidemics, in which numbers of vampires have gotten too high.  The infection is still spreading.  The Coldtowns have only so many human doners, and eventually, it will all come crashing down.  There will either be a vampire apocalypse, or there will be some method of stopping the infection, a new vampire aristocracy that controls the spread for example, but something is about to change, quickly, painfully, and with a whole lot of blood.  Writers often create unsustainable systems, but rarely do they realize it and acknowledge it in the text itself.

Of course, what really makes any novel for me isn’t the worldbuilding, no matter how excellent. It’s the characters, and Black’s characters are wild, wonderful, relatable, and not even a little mentally healthy.  I want a million pages staring Tana, I want to punch Aidan in the face, and I want to give Gavriel hugs and blood soup with a fifty foot long ladle.  Tana is fierce.  Tana is an adrenaline junkie with a death wish who has no dreams for herself, and yet she’s the most stable person they’ve got, and she knows it.  She will fight anything, do anything to keep going, because as long as she fights to keep going, she doesn’t remember about how much she doesn’t want to keep going at all.  Tana is absolutely my favorite thing about this book.

The one thing that did bug me was the sexual politics of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.  I’m really glad to see a transexual character, whose identity is treated like a nonissue, and who has a little bit of a romantic subplot with a cute guy who is crazy for her and she doesn’t know it, but I’m not so glad to see three bisexual vampiric boys, one of whom is unabashedly evil and dissipated, one of whom is a manipulative shit who treated his ex-girlfriend like crap when they were together, and the last of whom started sleeping with men as part of an effort to debauch himself after doing something he believed to be unforgivable, something that led directly to his becoming a vampire.  As a bisexual person, the way all three of these portrayals draw on pretty nasty stereotypes of bisexual people makes me very uncomfortable.  Also, this is a very very white book.  Midnight and Winter, the wannabe vampires I’m pretty sure are of Asian decent, and there’s a Latina woman who gives a speech at Pearl and Tana’s school, and other than that, very white.

However, I still didn’t want the book to be over, and now that it is, I want fanfics where Tana kicks the Cold, breaks out of Coldtown, and puts Pauline and Pearl through school with what she charges for interviews.  I want long, rambling fanfics where Tana can’t kick the Cold, and where she and Gavriel travel the world, getting a handle on the spread of vampirism and killing vampire serial killers, where Tana keeps Gavriel together, and he keeps her grounded.  I want fanfics where Tana does PSAs.  In other words, Black left me wanting more in the best way possible.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
is definitely a standout vampire novel, and definitely worth the read, both for vampire fans, and people like me who are... not vampire fans.  If you don’t mind your vampires dead scary, this is the book for you.

Holly Black can be found online at her website,, or on livejournal, as [ profile] blackholly .


Date: 2015-03-18 03:35 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Are there any good fanfics out there?! I've been looking everywhere. PLEASE TELL


attackfish: Yshre girl wearing a kippah, text "Attackfish" (Default)

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